Navigating the Transition: Returning to Office

Leading the Return to Office: Navigating Complaints, Pushback, and Turnover

October 26, 2023
Unifai Team

As the world gradually recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, many leaders are facing the challenging task of orchestrating the return to the office. While this transition may seem like a straightforward process, it can be fraught with complaints, pushback, and even turnover. In this article, we will explore how leaders, regardless of their organization's size, can effectively address these concerns and lead their teams through the return to office.

Understanding Employee Concerns

Before diving into strategies for managing complaints, pushback, and turnover, it's crucial for leaders to understand why some employees may be resistant to returning to the office. The reasons can vary widely, but common concerns include:

  • Health and Safety: Some employees might still have concerns about the safety of working in a shared physical space, despite vaccination efforts.
  • Work-Life Balance: Remote work offers more flexibility, and some employees are reluctant to give up the freedom and time-saving aspects of working from home.
  • Commuting: Long commutes can be draining and can eat into personal time.
  • Personal Preferences: Employees might have found that remote work suits their workstyle or personal circumstances better.

Addressing Complaints

  • Open Communication: Leaders should encourage open and honest communication with their teams. Listen to their concerns and acknowledge their feelings.
  • Flexibility: Whenever possible, provide flexible work arrangements, allowing employees to choose between remote and in-office work.
  • Safety Measures: Ensure that comprehensive health and safety measures are in place to address concerns about returning to the office.
  • Clear Expectations: Set clear expectations for productivity and performance, both in the office and remotely.

Managing Pushback

  • Lead by Example: Demonstrating your commitment to the return to office can inspire confidence in your team. Spend time in the office, actively engage with your team, and show that you believe in the return.
  • Highlight Benefits: Emphasize the benefits of returning to the office, such as better collaboration, mentorship, and personal growth opportunities.
  • Inclusive Decision-Making: Involve employees in the decision-making process related to the return to office. This gives them a sense of ownership and control.
  • Supportive Environment: Create a supportive work environment by offering resources for employees to ease the transition.

Dealing with Turnover

  • Retain Valuable Talent: Identify and prioritize high-performing employees who might be considering leaving due to the return to office. Consider offering them flexible arrangements or additional perks.
  • Transition Plans: Help employees create transition plans if they decide to leave. This will enable a smoother departure and maintain positive relationships.
  • Onboarding: If turnover occurs, streamline the onboarding process for new hires to maintain a sense of continuity and minimize disruption.

Outright Refusal

In some cases, employees may refuse to return to the office regardless of efforts made by leaders. When faced with outright refusal:

  • Respect Choices: Acknowledge that not all employees will be comfortable with the return to office. Respect their choices and seek alternative solutions.
  • Remote Work Policies: Consider offering long-term remote work options, if feasible, to accommodate employees who prefer this setup.
  • Maintain Team Cohesion: Focus on maintaining team cohesion and a sense of belonging for both in-office and remote employees.

Tips for a Successful Return to the Office

Here are some tips to help companies navigate the return to the office:

Plan Ahead

Returning to the office should not be a rushed decision. Companies should carefully plan and consider all factors before making the transition. This may include conducting surveys to gauge employee readiness, assessing the office space for safety measures, and creating a detailed plan for the return.

Communicate Effectively

As mentioned earlier, communication is key during this transition. Companies should provide regular updates and be transparent about their plans and expectations. This will help ease employee concerns and ensure a smooth transition.

Be Flexible

As mentioned earlier, companies should be flexible and understanding of employee concerns and needs. This may include offering alternative work arrangements or providing support for employees who may be struggling with the transition.

Provide Resources

Returning to the office can be a stressful and overwhelming experience for some employees. Companies should provide resources and support for their employees during this transition. This may include offering mental health resources, providing a safe and comfortable work environment, and being understanding of any personal or health concerns.


Many companies have already successfully navigated the return to the office. One example is Google, which has implemented a phased approach to returning to the office. They have also provided resources and support for employees, such as mental health resources and flexible work arrangements. The vast majority of companies that already have returned to the office say they’ve seen an improvement in revenue, productivity and worker retention

Leading the return to the office is not a one-size-fits-all process. Leaders must navigate the diverse concerns of their team members with empathy, understanding, and flexibility. By addressing complaints, managing pushback, and dealing with turnover or refusal thoughtfully, leaders can guide their organizations through this transition successfully while maintaining a positive work environment. Ultimately, the return to the office can be an opportunity for growth, innovation, and collaboration when handled effectively from a leader's perspective. 

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